Cibele, a new PC game released earlier this week, might just be the most honest game about sex on Steam right now.
Clocking in at about two hours, Cibele is a short autobiographical title that chronicles game developer Nina Freeman’s first love. The entire game takes place on a desktop…
You can click on any one of those folders and see what they contain:
There’s a certain unfiltered rawness to the game—you get a first-hand look at everything Freeman has ‘saved’ to her computer. And I mean everything. Selfies. Awkward poetry. Emails. Social media updates. More importantly, you gain access to “Valtameri,” a fake MMO that you can play with your online buddies. That’s where the boy comes in.
Without giving away too much, Cibele follows Freeman’s relationship with “Icchi,” another player within Valtameri. Now, I’ve never played an MMO like Valtameri. I’ve never met Ichi, who is based on an actual person. Still, as a woman who basically grew up online, I found that Freeman’s experience is frighteningly similar to my own. As a teen, I logged countless hours into games that I played just to chat with a friend I’ve never met. Sometimes, I’d fall in love. Or at least, I thought I did.
Nowadays, we have well-defined rules for digital courtship—some are unspoken, while others have thousands of words devoted to them on magazines and online thinkpieces. Nearly everyone has opinions on read receipts, on sexts, on dick pics. There’s even a show for stuff like ‘catfishing’ now. It’s still a clusterfuck, and nobody knows what they’re doing online, really, but at least now the world has words for many of these phenomena. Online dating feels so old hat, that there are even cliches for individual dating services—how many dudes on Tinder have a damn tiger in their profile picture, anyway?
It wasn’t always this way, though. Back when I was a teenager, everything to do with online love was new and scary, especially if it was happening within a video game. What do you do when you think you’re in love with someone who lives across the country? What is meeting someone you primarily know online actually like? Can you actually be close to someone you’ve never met? Should you really send nudes to some guy online? I didn’t have answers to any of these questions, even though they seemed to pop up left and right. Nobody seemed to talk about it, either. I only had the eagerness of a lonely teen who really wanted to find someone to love, even if it meant fixating on some dude I met online who wasn’t actually that great.
I know better now. I know how easy it is to get emotionally invested in someone when you only deal with their curated selfies, their clever tweets, and their nice Instagrams. I know just how seductive words can be when they’re divorced from the messiness of actually being there in person. I know just how much easier it is to open up online to strangers, and I know how jiving online doesn’t always translate to compatibility in real life. I know a lot of things that, frankly, wouldn’t have saved me from heartbreak back when I was a kid. All the awkward crushes, all the awfully revealing chat logs, and the late nights staring into a monitor for companion ship—all of that pain and confusion helped shape me into the person I am today.
Cibele, humble as it is, manages to dive into the chaos that is love on the internet, and it does so with deftness I’ve never seen in a game before. Playing it is painful— because it doesn’t pull any punches, Cibele reminds me of a lot of experiences I’d rather forget, from a time I didn’t know any better. That’s exactly what makes Cibele worth experiencing, in my mind.